Recently, I had the chance to visit two rock music concerts in Japan. Of course, I’ve been to other concerts before, but it was always the case of big opera hall kind of concerts until now (e.g. NHK Hall or Tokyo National Opera). Opera or classical concerts feel the same worldwide, the singer’s and orchestra’s behaviour is predetermined, the audience is educated and the flow of the show is perfect. However, rock concerts differ a bit. The atmosphere is more ‘raw’ and ‘loose’, the band members joke with the audience, try silly stunts, talk about politics, may even perform drunk. Depending on the genre, both the band and crowd reactions span a wide range.
From my experience in Greece, concerts of local and overseas artists exhibit some differences. Greece is a nation stricken down by financial and social problems, with the new generation of musicians expressing their political opinions via lyrics and interviews, in order to inform or motivate the crowd. Nowadays, most of the concerts are in solidarity or support of a social movement or wrongly prosecuted individuals (e.g. solidarity to immigrants, covering the trial costs of activists etc). Overseas artists usually don’t have such an interest, but because Greece is not one of the HOT live concert destinations and the country’s situations is pretty known around the globe, most bands offer some words of sympathy or revolution. Punk and rock bands are by default fuelled by teen angst and feelings of dissatisfaction, so it’s only logical that they are supportive. As for the crowd, if we take out the local Greek subculture of ‘bouzoukia’, often involves a pit, even during the happy reggae songs of Locomondo or slow ballads of Pavlos Pavlidis. I speak from experience, I have my bruises to prove it. When I started my undergrad in Athens, I visited a handful of lives. On the aftermath of a super heavy pit for Mocha (?I don’t even know how it started?), I returned to my hometown for the weekend. My dad saw some bruises on my arms and legs and was literally terrified about the kind of life I was living by myself. People are drinking and dancing, smuggling tsipouro and cheap wine in water bottles, smoking tobacco or others, lighting up red and green smoke sticks. In case of couples, typically guys create a wall formation to protect girls from the expanding pit of wild dancers. Nevertheless, girls are far from fragile; they dance with force and pride, and if the band is lucky, a bra or two might be thrown at them (and then requested back because ‘That thing costed me 30 euros, bras are expensive, man!’). This might look dangerous and unthinkable for many, but I, as many others, enjoy it truthfully. The crowd is aware of the dangers, so everyone is careful of others and reacts immediately in case of emergency. Last but not least, the clothes are not fancy. Most of the people wear simple black T-shirts and old shoes, because of the high possibility to ruin them from being stepped over or random wine in the air.
Some examples [not exactly rock genre though]:
Japan is the exact opposite. It doesn’t matter if it is a huge stadium concert (the recent live of UVERworld in Yokohama arena) or a gig of local bands in a small live house (AGNO et al in Baysis Yokohama). The performance starting time was 18:30 – so at 18:29:55 the audience begun a countdown. The concert started sharp on time, no delays for any reason. You noticed the 18:30 right? That was a new one for me. I am used to either all-day-long festivals or concerts from 21:00++. But here concert hours are similar to office working hours, 18:30-21:30. The audience stood up as soon as the artists came on stage. Everyone put their hands up and started moving their fists rhythmically while singing. Always the right fist, and always with the same rhythm. No deviations from that. I was enjoying it my way, moving the left hand and rocking my body loosely, but everyone around me was serious and stiff, thus making me feel a bit awkward and out of place. When the singer addressed the crowd, the audience remained quiet and still. No whispering, no coughing, damn I wonder if people even breathed. The artist gets ultimate respect and attention, both when performing and when talking. Almost every band member talks at some point. They talk about love and life and dreams and prayers. They talk about trivial matters like the weather and getting dressed well because now it’s the flu season. Furthermore, they talk about how much they try to improve their musical abilities, strive to be the best and present the best version of themselves to their fans. Fire, smoke, elevation stage for the famous band; lights, sound effects, stage jumps for the local band. Lead singers especially emit huge amounts of energy, dancing, jumping around, trying to offer an unforgettable experience. In case of a big band, I guess it is something to be expected. But small bands with an audience as much as a handful of people, are not bothered, they perform as if they were addressing hundreds. And they keep thanking the crowd for their participation and support. Again and again and again. I was literally taken aback by the enormous amount of respect from singer side and audience side.
Another huge difference was that no cameras, iPads, tripods were present at any point. The audience came to enjoy the music, instead of recording a video that they would never even access, and that is what they did. The whole Yokohama arena was pitch black, with no rectangular light sources blocking your field of view; just the occasional blinking of LED wristwatches. The dress code was far from the usual black T-shirt. Some were wearing their work clothes, some had their outfits specifically picked out for the occasion, a lot were wearing the bands T-shirts, wristbands, towels, and any other accessory. I was excited to see a cute girl with a long pink skirt and a red beret, headbanging to a hardly known metalcore band. Even the smallest band has a devoted fanbase, ready to buy merchandise and visit all the gigs. Because being a band in Japan is a serious issue (everything is a gravely serious issue around here, I gather). Local bands have a logo, a website, official photo-shoots, trivia pages, live-streaming channels. It is of no importance if the band’s drummer is a hard-working salary man, he will devote himself 100% to the band’s business.
Greek concerts are unpredictable and crazy.
Japanese concerts are safe and relaxing.
Despite the differences, I enjoy both versions. However, when it comes to American or German bands, I prefer the Greek option of the concert. Japanese bands fit better to the Japanese live performance concept.